This past Wednesday at Bible Study in my church, I was making a point about the necessity of forgiving people who have hurt or offended us. To illustrate the idea that forgiveness is even more important to the one who was offended than it is to the offender, I brought up the name of Jefferson Davis.
“I have to forgive Jefferson Davis,” I said, “even though it won’t make any difference to him at all.”
My point was that even though Jefferson Davis would never know or care that I had forgiven him, forgiving him was crucially important for my own sake. Otherwise I would be held in bondage to my resentment against this long dead individual.
In selecting illustrations, it’s important that they present a picture with which people can quickly and naturally identify. By alluding to Davis, I assumed that everyone would immediately understand the nature of my grievance against him. He was, after all, the president of a Confederacy dedicated to keeping black people in lifelong bondage. To me, he exemplifies the dismissal of the humanity of people of African descent that was a necessary foundation for the maintenance of slavery.
It was very natural for me to identify Jefferson Davis with the necessity of forgiving. Not so with most of the other people in the Bible Study. It was not that they didn’t want to forgive Jefferson Davis; the problem was that many of them didn’t know who he was!
The immediate reaction to my illustration was a lot of blank looks. Finally I had to say that Davis was the Confederate president. Then someone said, “Oh yes, Pastor likes to study the Civil War.”
Most of the people in that Bible Study did not have college degrees, but almost all had graduated high school. By no means were these educationally deprived people. But the name Jefferson Davis drew only blank looks from them. It would seem that the events of the Civil War era are largely unknown to a large proportion of modern Americans.
Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad. Naturally for someone like me, who is fascinated by the war and the people who lived though it, it’s disappointing to see that for most of my contemporaries, the Civil War is truly ancient history. And nobody cares about ancient history.
On the other hand, perhaps we are at a point in our own history where some forgetting is necessary in order for us to move on. There’s nothing healthy in being perpetually aggrieved at offences that occurred 150 years ago.
Here are some of my articles that involve Jefferson Davis:
Why Abraham Lincoln Refused To Respect Jefferson Davis
Mary Elizabeth Bowser: Union Spy In The Confederate White House
Jefferson Davis Loses His Plantation in the Battle of Vicksburg
Jefferson Davis Wanted to Invade the North Long Before Gettysburg